WHILE WE ARE still in an economic recession, entrepreneurship is on the rise in the Netherlands, especially among young people. They don’t seem worried. On the contrary: they dream and dare to take risks.
The sixth floor of an office building just outside the centre of Amsterdam holds a large and nearly empty space. There’s one table and one entrepreneur. From behind his laptop Matthijs Otto puts two orange plastic disposable cups under the coffee maker . “We still need to get real cups. ”
Matthijs Otto (24) graduated with a Master’s degree in Finance and Investments last year. After an internship at Rabobank in Hong Kong, he could have easily found a job. But Matthijs did not want to work for someone. During his studies he had come up with the idea to set up a website where people, who do not know each other yet, could meet online and plan to have dinner together. Now he works long hours to turn Eattomeet.com into a success.
As a user of Eattomeet, you can organize a dinner at various locations around the world. You can organize a dinner at a restaurant of your choice, or you could join someone else’s table. At the moment, a table at restaurant ‘Boom’ in Amsterdam still has three open seats, and an international party in Barcelona could still use one more companion at their table. According to Matthijs, the website is especially suited for expats and foreign students. They can build up a network in the city in which they live. “If you eat with people, you often have meaningful conversations and really get to know them.”
Thus far, Matthijs has had to pay himself and his team with the returns he received from an investment. But he wants to earn his own money as quickly as possible, by charging a small commission to the participating restaurants. Whether this will be viable remains to be seen, but Matthijs believes in his idea. “I’ve taken a risk, but I just had to try it. Otherwise it would have haunted me for the rest of my life.”
Marijke Synhaeve (24) never applied for a job after she completed her Masters in International Development Management. Alongside two others, she started a private research and consulting firm. “Because I live now. I want to try new things. I am not looking for a lot of security.”
Marijke spends her days in an office building where she works hard on different projects for ‘BEvraag’. The company conducts research within organizations, interviewing employees about the way things are going. Their answers reveal what the biggest problems and challenges are and are turned into a recommendations for improvement.
Marijke enjoys the challenges she encounters in her work. She can do what she loves and take the responsibility she wants, without having to ask for it. “If I would have started working for a large company at the age of 24, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now.”
The Dutch Chamber of Commerce sees more and more young entrepreneurs like Matthijs.The spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce noted that the young generation is attracted to entrepreneurship particularly because it allows them a great degree of freedom. “We detect a trend, in that young people do not want to commit to a permanent job. Securing a lasting long-term contract seems to be of little interest to them.”
Maryse Brand, lecturer in Innovation Management & Strategy at the University of Groningen, also noted that entrepreneurship is becoming more popular. “You could say that in the last decade, entrepreneurship has gotten a better reputation in the Netherlands. Before that, entrepreneurs were seen mainly as money grabbers, while, nowadays, they are admired.”
According to Matthijs, entrepreneurship is in your blood. “You have to really be an enterpreneur, you cannot become one.” As a little boy, Matthijs was also known as ‘Matthijs Eigenwijs’, eigenwijs meaning something like cocky or pigheaded. Sometimes his cockiness gets in the way and he comes across as arrogant. However, as an entrepreneur, he is able to take advantage of this part of his personality. “It’s really a bad personality trait, but I can use my arrogance in a positive way. If you yourself aren’t sure of your idea, others will not believe you either.”
The Dutch Chamber of Commerce also comes across people who see entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment. Their experiences often show that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. “People do not want to receive benefits from the state and start their own business to get by. But that does not mean they will succeed. We see that the majority of these businesses don’t last longer than three years”, the spokesman of the Chamber of Commerce explains.
Competing with Google
Rick Boerebach (24) works on Eattomeet.com with Matthijs, but is also involved with another company named ZEEF. ZEEF is based in the same office building in Amsterdam, and is run by a small group of entrepreneurs. Behind desks full of computer screens, a group of young men is building a search engine that aims to compete with Google. By making use of expert opinion when placing ads and presenting search results, ZEEF is trying to dig in to a particular part of the market. “If we take just one percent of the market share away from Google, we’ve made 500 million”, says Rick.
According to him, our desire for a secure income is standing in the way of societal progress. “The world is becoming a boring place. People don’t really take risks or think big.” The next step, says Rick, is space. “I want to put people on Mars, because it’s possible. But in order to do that I need about 3 to 6 billion .” That’s why Rick is hoping to start to make a lot of money soon. “I hope to have 25 million in my bank account by the age of 25.”
Marijke thinks that most young entrepreneurs work towards a dream. “When I look at other enterpreneurs, I see that it is often important for them that their work has some social value. They are idealists.” Marijke counts herself as one of them. “I want to make the world a little better.”
According to professor Brand, the reason for young people to think big, might be that they have seen more of the world than previous generations have: “Travel, TV and internet encourage us to dream big.” The Internet in particular, offers many opportunities for young entrepreneurship. “It’s not only easy to sell online, we also have faster access to a growing pool of information and are in contact with all the world,” says Brand .
Matthijs and his friends sometimes call themselves the “golden generation”. They’ve had a carefree childhood, been given good education, and can now enjoy the benefits of extremely fast technological development. But all of this has not made them lazy. “The crisis has taught us that it’s important to work hard for your money and not take things for granted.”
To achieve his goals, Matthijs must work hard. “It’s not just fun. Actually, it’s good only twenty or thirty percent of the time. The rest of it, you’re just working really hard.”
BEvraag is busy. Marijke has thought about expanding, but not anytime soon. A couple of months is as far as the future goes for her. The word ‘retirement’, although a much debated topic in the country, makes Marijke laugh.” Oh no, I’m not thinking about that right now.” This carefree attitude, according to Brand, is typical for the young entrepreneur. “But once they start a family and buy a home, income security becomes a necessity.” As people age, they increasingly avoid risks.
Matthijs is aware that he should take advantage of his youth. “I don’t know if I’ll still be doing this when I have a wife and children.” What he does know is that he will continue to do what he likes, because ultimately that’s what it’s all about. “This does not feel like work, it’s a calling.”
By Sofie Willemsen